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Canadiens 4, Capitals 1 @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL (AP) -Alex Kovalev's love affair with Montreal Canadiens fans is back on again.

Kovalev had his first two-goal game of the season and Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves to win his fourth straight start to help Montreal defeat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Saturday night.

After tying the game at 1 with his 15th goal in the first, Kovalev gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead with his second of the game on a power play midway through the second.

Named the game's first star, Kovalev blew kisses to the sellout crowd of 21,273 while he skated out to acknowledge their cheers.

"It was just a great reaction from the fans so I had to give some back," said Kovalev, who had no points in his previous three games after missing two because of vertigo.

Tomas Plekanec and Michael Ryder also scored for Montreal, which won its season-high sixth in a row at the Bell Centre.

"There are a lot of good things going on for us right now but the reality of it is that everybody's waiting to see what happens with the other games," captain Saku Koivu said.

The Canadiens, who have won six of seven, have 84 points and six games left in the ever-tightening race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

"We've been playing so well lately," Kovalev said. "I know we have a big test in front of us."

Montreal, which hosts the seventh-place New York Rangers on Tuesday, remains tied with Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Alexander Semin scored his 38th goal for Washington, which ended an 0-3 road trip. Olaf Kolzig made 36 saves for the Capitals, who were outshot 40-28.

"I just enjoy playing here so much," Kolzig said. "The atmosphere is electric and obviously with the situation that team's in right now there's even more of a buzz, and I miss it. I miss that atmosphere, a playoff push, and hopefully we get all the pieces in place next year that we can be in this position come April."

Halak won for the seventh time in 11 starts since he was called up from Hamilton of the AHL on Feb. 15.

Semin managed the only shot to elude the 21-year-old Slovak rookie 5:53 into the first when he used Kovalev as a screen to fire a shot into the top-right corner of the net during the first power-play opportunity for either team.

Kovalev made up for that a little more than three minutes later when he came up with a loose puck behind the Capitals net and reached around to stuff the puck past Kolzig inside the right post to tie it at 8:59.

The Russian forward was in the right place to give the Canadiens the lead 9:36 into the second as he sent a rebound of Koivu's shot off the left post over the goal line as it lay in the crease.

Plekanec scored his 19th goal at 15:04 to increase the lead to 3-1.

Ryder beat Kolzig for his team-leading 25th goal 14:50 into the third to put Montreal up by three.

Notes: Kolzig has faced the Canadiens 34 times, all in the regular season, and has a 15-12-3-1 record. ... Semin has six goals and two assists in six games against Montreal. ... Canadiens D Sheldon Souray played his 500th regular-season game and recorded his 36th assist and 60th point of the season on Kovalev's second goal. Souray became the first Montreal defenseman to reach 60 points since Chris Chelios had 73 points in 1988-89.

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